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    Sunday, March 26, 2023

    ECC girls’ teams overcome ‘growing pains’ on the way to Mohegan Sun

    New London’s Nalyce Dudley makes her way down the court during a regular season game against Cathedral of Boston on Jan. 2 at Conway Gym. Dudley, the lone senior, leads the Whalers against Ledyard on Tuesday in the ECC Division I tournament final at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Peter Huoppi/The Day)
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    Ledyard’s Kiki Kirvan (23) sneaks a pass around NFA’s Emily Orcutt during at Jan. 7 game at NFA. Kirvan, a senior, has come back from a knee injury last season to lead the Colonels to their first ECC Division I tournament final against New London on Tuesday night at Mohegan Sun Arean. (Daniel Passapera/Special to The Day)
    Stonington’s MacKenzie Pettegrow (2) drives against Lyman Memorial’s Jenny Lopez (5) during Saturday’s ECC Division II girls’ basketball tournament semifinal game at Plainfield. The senior will lead the Bears into their first appearance at Mohegan Sun Arena on Tuesday night against defendiing champion Windham. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Stonington was 2-8 on Jan. 17, finally able to even its record at 11-11 Saturday with a win in the Eastern Connecticut Conference Division II girls’ basketball tournament semifinals.

    Longtime Stonington coach Paulla Solar has a description for it: Growing pains.

    “I think it was maturity,” Solar said Monday. “We basically had freshmen (last year) who are now sophomores stepping into varsity games. It was like growing pains. It’s something you have to go through.

    “It’s nice it worked out this way. Three months later, it’s really great.”

    Stonington, the No. 5 seed, will face No. 2 Windham in the ECC Division II tournament championship at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Mohegan Sun Arena, the Bears’ first trip to the Sun since it has hosted the league and state tournament title games. Windham is the defending champion, beating Plainfield in last year’s Division II championship game.

    The Division I championship game will follow at 8 p.m., matching top-seeded New London, which will defend its title, and No. 3 Ledyard. Both games will be streamed live via Game-Day on www.theday.com

    Ledyard (13-9) also waded through some growing pains, starting 0-5. Following that, however, the Colonels won seven straight to launch a success story which continued with a win in the ECC semifinals Saturday against No. 2 Bacon Academy.

    New London is 16-6, capturing the ECC Division II title during the regular season. The Whalers are also defending Division I tournament champions, winning last season at Mohegan Sun, 66-55 over Bacon.

    But while New London is hardly the underdog, returning 2022 tournament Most Outstanding Player and Class LL all-state pick Nalyce Dudley along with 6-foot-1 sophomore Serenity Lancaster — who had 40 points in the Whalers’ ECC tournament opener — coach Tammy Millsaps’ team hasn’t been without its growing pains either.

    New London has a young team, with Dudley as the only senior, and a short bench, oftentimes using just five players out of necessity.

    All three local coaches, Solar, Millsaps and Ledyard’s Mike Morgan, spoke of their seniors.

    “MacKenzie (Pettegrow) and Diya Patel,” Solar said. “You have a lot of ups and downs of your season and they’re the ones besides the coaches that have to work through it, try to keep everything upbeat.”

    Pettegrow is in her first season as Stonington’s point guard, a position in which Solar notes that it’s hard to “hide out” — “she got herself so much more confident,” Solar said.

    Ledyard’s seniors are Kiki Kirvan and Monet Augmon, who endured a 5-15 regular-season as freshmen. Near the end of last season, Kirvan also suffered an ACL tear, which presented her with a year of rehabilitation before she could play basketball again.

    “I can’t say enough about this girl,” Morgan said of Kirvan. “I’ve been coaching her since she was in sixth, seventh grade. To see the effort that she gives ... if she has a bad day, she doesn’t let it disturb her. She comes back ready the next day playing better.”

    And then there’s Dudley, who has shared the court with her sister Nyarah, a freshman, this season. Dudley earned her Outstanding Player honor last year after scoring 81 points in three games. Dudley is off the Division I Sacred Heart next season.

    “She did a lot of things and she carried us over the hump today,” Millsaps said of Dudley following Saturday’s semifinal victory over Fitch. “She made some crucial passes on the penetration down to the post to get Joy (Schneider) open, looking over the defense, made key free throws, handled the pressure well.”

    The ECC season culminates at Mohegan Sun, where Stonington and Ledyard make their first appearances and New London and Windham each try to claim another title.

    New London swept Ledyard this season, winning 71-34 on Dec. 15 and 51-27 on Jan. 20. Stonington and Windham split, as Windham took the first matchup 57-38 on Jan. 30 and Stonington answered with a 57-54 victory on Feb. 2.

    “Everybody’s excited,” Solar said. “Just, I think we had a really rough start. It’s nice to have something positive toward the end. I feel good for the girls. Things are going better for them. That’s a character thing.”


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